Toxxscan – help create a toxin free world

There are thousands of synthetic chemicals hidden in foods, personal care products and other consumer products that are known to be harmful, such through their hormone disrupting effects or their contribution to cancer risk. The problem is, most people don’t know which ones are which, or what effects they might have, let alone how they may act together! As it happens, no one can answer this latter question. But what we can do is find a way of showing what is known about the risks of individual chemicals – so that you can choose whether or not to buy a product. This is what the Toxxscan project is about, bringing together a range of disparate databases that are known to governments and scientists, but are hidden away from, or are simply too obscure and unintelligible for, the lay citizen.

Toxxscan is about empowering consumers as well as manufacturers who want to use safer ingredients. The next stage is configuring this into a friendly user interface so that it might be used as an app in shops, at the point of purchase. You can relay on our algorithm, which will give you a red or amber traffic light warning according to the level and type of risk, or you might get the all-important green light that signifies no known health risks for the ingredients. If you want the detailed low-down, that’s also there for those who want more than a traffic light.

Rob Verkerk and ANH have been key players in the Toxxscan team since the project was initiated a couple of years ago. Now we need to contract database experts to configure the technology for us. To pay for this we've just kicked off crowdfunding for the project because governments and corporations simply won’t fund projects like this. Many people have helped by informing their friends, but very few have donated so far. Without public financial support, we’ll not be able to realize this technology in its final form. Please check out our crowdfunding site now, and any level of donation to the project will make a difference. Also, do let us know if you have ideas of what else we might be able to do to raise the €50,000 needed to bring the project to fruition. We greatly look forward to any support you can offer – and please share our crowdfunding appeal widely. It will make for a safer future, especially for the next generation.

EC ruled to have breached EU law over chemical definition

The EU General Court ruled that the European Commission has breached EU law when it failed to define ‘endocrine disruptors’ – the chemicals that affect hormones in animals. Sweden’s former environment minister, Lena Ek, brought the case forward after the EC failed to produce a scientific criterion for testing endocrine-disruptor chemicals by the 2013 deadline. The deadline for this definition passed because the draft proposal was delayed by Catherine Day (former Secretary-General), who wanted an impact analysis first. The court ruled that this analysis was unnecessary and there “is no provision of the regulation which requires such an impact analysis”. Endocrine disruptors are found in many everyday products and some suspect that rising levels of cancer and fertility problems may be linked to these products. Vito Buonsante of ClientEarth said, “This is an unprecedented decision by the European Courts. It ruled that the Commission is illegally delaying a crucial decision to protect EU citizens and the environment”. It is expected that the EC will publish criteria for endocrine disruptors in late-2016.

NHS confirms antibiotic resistance threat

It was reported a few weeks ago that resistance to colistin (the antibiotic of last resort) had been found in China and that Public Health England researchers have now found strains in the UK. The proportion of samples found to be resistant is still extremely low, under 0.1%, but resistant strains were also found in three separate pig farms. The NHS has said that threat to human health is low and the situation is being carefully monitored. It is thought that a careless meat industry is largely to blame for the resistance, so greatly reducing meat consumption may be necessary.

Congress says GM salmon must be labeled

Lawmakers in the US have instructed the FDA to forbid the sale of GM salmon until labeling and public disclosure guidelines are in place, in this week’s federal spending bill. This comes only one month after the FDA approved GM salmon for consumption without specific labeling so the decision comes as a victory for opponents of GM foods. The salmon, produced by AquAdvantage, contained altered genes which means it grows large enough for consumption in half the time it would take in the wild. The company claims the fish have no chance of escaping into the wild and the stocks could even reduce pressure on wild populations – activists and fishermen have refuted these claims. The FDA has said it only requires GM labelling if there is a “material difference” between the GM food and its natural counterpart – which was not present in this case. Lisa Archer of Friends of the Earth said, “The vast majority of people want GMO labeling, and Friends of the Earth and our allies will continue to fight for our basic right to know what we are feeding our families”.

NYC judge rejects preschooler vaccine requirement

The group of mothers who sued the city of New York over their rights to leave children unvaccinated has won its case. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene passed a rule in 2013 that all preschoolers in city-regulated daycares must have a flu vaccine, but now the Supreme Court Justice – Manuel Mendez – has said that only the state has the authority to require immunisation. The rule would have required over 100,000 children in the city to receive an annual vaccination, with the possibility of being turned away if they did not provide vaccine documentation to daycares. City health officials are to appeal the ruling; claiming that this could not only decrease the number of children hospitalised for flu every year (currently about 20,000), but could also stop the spread of infection. “This ruling really interferes with the Board Of Health's responsibility to protect everyone's health in New York City”, said Dr Farley, the former health commissioner. Unfortunately, the Board of Health’s argument falls apart given little or no evidence that the flu vaccine actually works.

More fruit for schools in New Zealand

Under the Fruit in Schools programme an extra 13,000 students will receive free fruit next year as it expands to include 77 extra schools. The initiative was introduced in 2006 after a study found that only 40% of children ate more than two pieces of fruit a day. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said, “Healthy eating helps fuel the body and the brain, that's why the Fruit in Schools programme is so beneficial to students”. Originally, the programme was only designed to run until 2010 but studies showed that, following the introduction of Fruit in Schools, children were better behaved and more active.

Homeopathic and anthroposophic medicine markets grow by 6% each year

New figures from the European Coalition on Homeopathic and Anthroposophic Medicinal Products (ECHAMP) show that the market for these medicines is growing by 6.5% every year. The market is valued at an annual €1.24billion – 7% of the EU market for non-prescription medicines. Europe is the centre of global expertise and manufacture of homeopathic and anthroposophic medicines, producing over 1.5 million different products and 100 million units of finished product yearly. The ECHAMP report gives EU-wide data on the industry and its trends.

Tasmania considers raising the smoking age to 25

The Australian state of Tasmania is considering raising the legal age of smoking and purchase of cigarettes to at least 21, but even as high as 25. Currently the legal age is 18 throughout Australia, but if passed these rules will be among the strictest tobacco laws in the world. The proposals are part of a plan to make Tasmania Australia’s healthiest state by 2025 but critics have said the law would violate civil liberties. Currently 20% of Tasmanians smoke but the policies there are already very strict – including plain package and high cigarette prices.

Drug company fires Martin Shkreli after fraud arrest

KaloBios Pharmaceuticals has fired its chief executive Martin Shkreli days after the FBI arrested him for fraud. Mr. Shkreli has been dubbed ‘the most hated man in America’ after his company, Turing, raised the price of a lifesaving drug for treatment of HIV (Daraprim) by 5,000%. Shkreli has also stepped down from his position at Turing. The FBI accuses him of using the assets from his former company to pay off debts at a hedge fund he managed and taking money from the hedge fund to use personally. Mr. Shkreli is pleading not guilty and has been released on $5 million bail. We find it interesting that Mr Shkreli can incur so much wrath, yet the boards of other drug companies that sell drugs, the science of which has been manipulated, that might kill, maim or harm, and that are largely ineffective, are seemingly impervious to such criticism or suggestion of fraud.